President Nicos Anastasiades conceded on Thursday that he could have avoided using a jet belonging to a Saudi businessman to take a family trip to the Seychelles after he was accused of violating the code of ethics he had demanded his ministers sign when taking office.
In a statement submitted to the House watchdog committee, Anastasiades said use of jet had been a friendly gesture and not a gift.
“Under the circumstances … I didn’t think use of the aircraft violated the ethics code,” the statement said.
“Due to this, and I won’t hesitate to recognise that, considering what followed, use of the aircraft for the trip in question could have been avoided,” he said.
The row erupted last month after the audit service published a report into Anastasiades’ use of private jets for his travels, including the private holiday to the Seychelles, and a related report concerning the naturalisation of the owner of one of the aircraft used.
Along with the Seychelles visit, Anastasiades also used the jet to travel to New York to address the UN General Assembly last September.
Though the report on the private jets concluded that no taxpayer money had been squandered, it did not address the ethical issues arising.
The second report suggested citizenships should not have been granted in 2015 to the rich Saudi owner of the jet and 41 other individuals because they did not meet the criteria. The total number of investors, including the Saudi businessman was six.
An additional 36 people – spouses, children – were also naturalised in line with the citizenship for investment scheme.
On Thursday, the president complained that it was the first time since the foundation of the Republic that a state official was criticised by the opposition for saving taxpayer money.
He denied anew that the six investors had received preferential treatment.
The government insists the six investors and their families invested €19.8m, well above the €15m they ought to have invested per scheme criteria. The auditor however, suggested they fell short of the minimum amount.